Effects on Employers if Iowa Makes Recreational Cannabis Use Legal

Now that recreational marijuana may become legal in Iowa, employers should know how this will affect the workplace and its policies.

This difference may cause immense confusion and complications for employers. For example, federal law still considers marijuana use illegal. THC, the intoxicating chemical contained in marijuana, is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Congress considers Schedule 1 substances very addictive with no medical value. Today, marijuana is much stronger and contains twenty to twenty-five percent THC compared to the less than two percent THC from the 1970s. 

With this difference in legality, employers find themselves in a complicated situation where they must decide how best to handle marijuana. For example, employers with federal contracts may find they must ban marijuana use. Furthermore, marijuana use can lead to intoxication on the job, causing significant safety issues. These issues may earn disapproval from workers’ compensation, insurance and other liability insurance carriers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For now, guidance for determining the difference between recreational and medical use remains minimal, which makes it difficult for employers to restrict marijuana use. This difficulty further complicates policies because Iowa already legalized medical marijuana, joining thirty-six other states with this decision. In this case, Iowa does not provide protections for employees who use medical marijuana from adverse action from employers, though fifteen other states do. However, even in those states that provide protections, the protections generally do not apply to workers who show up to work impaired due to safety concerns.

State and federal courts appear to agree on one issue: whether the Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees using medical marijuana from adverse employment actions. For now, both courts favor employers against these claims. Regardless, it is best to be careful and work with employees to find a reasonable accommodation because this could change.

Employers can also help protect themselves by updating workplace drug policies that include any disciplinary consequences. Also, they should document employee behavior when an incident occurs and obtain signed witness statements.

Finally, keeping up with any court decisions and legislation on this issue is essential. Staying updated allows employers to make changes to employment policies as necessary.

Region: Iowa